Two years since we splashed Wally Wagner’s chicken salad, I had to go back for more. I wanted to learn more about the all-time favorite lunch meat. Wally had the answers, of course. He has everything.
Minster – You’ll remember, I hope, if you were a reader back in 2018.
That was the year I found a pint of Wally Wagner’s chicken salad in my refrigerator late one night…and binged on it until it was gone.
Subsequently, I met Wagner, the proprietor of the three IGA stores of the same name in Fort Loramie, Minster, and New Bremen…and got the lowdown on one of the area’s favorite and most addictive cold snack foods available. If you haven’t…you’ve just got to try Wagner’s chicken salad before you meet the great nutritionist in the sky someday.
I know this. If you take Him a sample to try you won’t have to justify a lifetime of other poor eating choices. One taste of that chicken salad and He’ll give you a pass!
But man does not live on chicken salad alone…even Wagner’s chicken salad. And for me my default cold cut of choice (that’s good alliteration) has always been what those with a more pedigreed palette have called…tube steak, mystery meat, ‘grand gristle’ – what my uncle used to call “poor man’s porterhouse”. I have a life-long affinity for what the rest of us call…baloney.
Or bologna, more properly. And take my advice. If you like it, don’t look up its definition. I did.
Webster defines it as ‘bo-lo-gna’, then slangs the pronunciation beneath as ‘buh-lo-nee’. Nothing offensive so far.
And then: A large seasoned sausage made of finely ground meat, usually beef and pork, smoked and cooked. I’m fine with that.
But then, “see more…….”
“A popular lunch meat known to contain sodium, fat, and preservatives, like nitrites.” And then it goes into the business of total fat (9%), cholesterol (17 mg), sodium (254 mg), and rankings with the other “‘worst’ foods in your ‘fridge’.”
But hey…I’m 68 years old, I’ve snacked on Eckrich, Kahn’s, and Oscar Meyer all my life, and I even worked for part of one summer in the old Decker’s plant in Piqua – in the baloney (bologna) room. You can’t say enough negative about tube steak, mystery meat, and grand gristle to turn me away.
I know what goes into it because I’ve been privy to the process – meat, for sure, but a lot of meat parts, as well. Organ meats, trimmings from other cuts, and yes…a little gristle gets in there (there are no hooves). But it all comes together when ground into fine paste and blended with seasoning, preservatives, and food coloring to form something WONDERFUL.
And I don’t have to tell you, do I…that baloney and hot dogs are the same thing? Just formed and packaged differently?
I don’t have to tell you that hot dogs off the grill and one of Ron Mescher’s heavenly fried baloney sandwiches at Sideliner’s, in Versailles, taste miraculously similar?
So because of my experience with his chicken salad, I hooked up with Wally Wagner again last week to learn more about why baloney always tastes so good – 24/7.
I’ve always liked the standard brands. To my taste Eckrich is the mildest, and Kahn’s Deluxe Club is a close second with bit of garlic bouquet.
But my tastes have matured over time to try salami, of course…pastrami, summer sausage, and a local favorite from Holmes County called Troyer’s Trail Bologna. I discovered Troyer’s in college when my roommate from Cambridge, Ohio would bring it back from home. He ate it three times a day – ten pounds a month – and affectionately called it ‘stale trail’.
Wally has ‘em all in that big, wonderful, refrigerated deli meat case at the Minster store. And he can be hard to track down. So when I finally found him I did my best to make it count.
Me: Do you personally like bologna (baloney)?
Wagner: Oh sure. I’ve eaten it for years.
Me: You know, Justin Wilson, the TV culinary chef and food expert once said that all things considered…when you’re really hungry nothing beats a baloney sandwich. And Harry Truman’s favorite before-bed snack was a baloney sandwich on Wonder Bread with a glass of milk.
Wagner: I didn’t know that. Harry Truman, huh?
Me: I know it’s not exactly health food, but why is baloney so addicting to the taste?
Wagner: I don’t know. It’s just something you grow up with – a tradition. It was one of the first cold meats made. It’s a good, easy snack.
Me: Do you have a favorite?
Wagner: Eckrich. Always liked the flavor.
Me: I like Kahn’s. I think it’s because it used to come with baseball cards. What do you think they use to make it pink?
Wagner: I try not to think of it that way.
Me: You know, I used to make baloney at the old Decker’s plant.
Wagner: Oh-h-h-h boy!
Me: Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip on a baloney sandwich?
Wagner: I like it with plain yellow mustard and a saltine cracker.
Me: How come a saltine, and not a Ritz cracker?
Wagner: Ritz is too much. You have to stay cheap – stay true to the cheap taste.
Me: That’s a great quote. Have you ever had a fried baloney sandwich?
Wagner: Sure, who hasn’t?
Me: You sell more baloney than the rest of the cold meats?
Wagner: If you count hot dogs I do.
Me: How much baloney do you sell in an average month?
Wagner: I don’t know. I guess the average family probably buys at least a pound or two at a time. So I guess we sell quite a bit.
Me: You ever sell the entire roll of bologna to one person? What is that, 10 or 15 pounds?
Wagner: Yeah, I’ve seen people buy the entire loaf. It’s called a loaf.
Me: Do you wonder about them when they walk out the door?
Wagner: Yeah…but you know some people actually take the entire loaf and cook it on the grill. That actually sounds pretty good.
Me: Does Ron Mescher shop here for those fried baloney sandwiches he makes?
Wagner: I wouldn’t know.
Me: You know Mescher makes them for me with fried baloney, a scrambled egg, and a grilled onion. Then you put horseradish mayonnaise on top
Wagner: (Taking a pen and paper to make notes) I’ve heard of him. Where do you say he’s at?
Wally Wagner is not only a good grocer, but a good egg, as well. He even made his display case available for photography from the inside. A fish-eye lens made his assortment of cold cuts look like a continent of cuisine – not just baloney.
And before I left he had collared Randy Grapner, a customer from Celina who grew up in Minster and invited him to sample some poor man’s porterhouse for the sake of marketing.
“You know what you need with this?” said Grapner. “A Weidemann’s beer. You know they’re making it again?”
Wally had it in stock. In fact, there’s nothing that hits the spot, from baloney to beer, that Wally Wagner doesn’t have in stock.
I thanked him for his time, his hospitality (including a sampler), and of course for sharing the business of baloney. As I started for the door he asked……
“Where did you say Ron Mescher’s place was……?”